In Beloved, what alternative definitions of a free self does Morrison show instead of one defined by taking freedom and selfhood away from others?

In Beloved, Toni Morrison shows how her characters struggle to attain and sustain a sense of free selfhood in the aftermath of slavery. This new selfhood is defined outside of the prior system of possession and oppression.

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Throughout Morrison's Beloved, the tense relations between black and white communities brings the theme of freedom to the forefront. In the aftermath of the American Civil War (1861-5), violence and oppression define the black experience, and freedom is a new concept for the novel's characters:

Eighteen seventy-four and whitefolks were still on the loose. Whole towns wiped clean of Negroes; eighty-seven lynchings in one year alone in Kentucky; four colored schools burned to the ground; grown men whipped like children; children whipped like adults; black women raped by the crew; property taken, necks broken.

This physical violence towards black communities in America could be read as Morrison suggesting that the oppressors continue to discriminate based on race, because they feel threatened by the new freedom of emancipated former slaves. It is clear that a sense of a free self for Morrison's black characters is burgeoning but far from fruition.

Describing this tenuous situation, Sethe states that “freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another”. It seems that those used to racial oppression who are not used to having a sense of freedom struggle to claim their own selfhood.

Paul D’s belief that “if a Negro got legs he ought to use them. Sit down too long, somebody will figure out a way to tie them up” suggests that the freedom of black characters is still threatened in Morrison's Beloved. Freedom is shown to be obtained by way of possession and power throughout the text, and Morrison's novel presents her characters' attempts to navigate towards a sense of self despite having been—and in many cases continuing to be—oppressed by others.

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